Love and Olive Oil

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

I do hope I’m not the only one that often finds the food and meals in a novel more memorable than the book itself.

For example, I read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake last year, and could not stop thinking about cake (On the contrary, I was quite disappointed when the Life of Pi turned out to be not so much about pie as I had hoped, although that didn’t stop me from having visions of creamy chocolate and tart cherry pies every time I picked it up.)

While I enjoyed the book very much, I couldn’t help but resenting the author for associating such a bright and cheery cake with sadness. Of course, it’s not actually the cake that’s at fault, rather the main character’s mother, whose despair she can taste with every bite.

Luckily, I baked this cake with a smile on my face and a grin in my heart, and I encourage you to indulge in the particular gladness of MY lemon cake.

There’s nothing sad about it. In fact, I’d argue that this cake is the epitome of happy.

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

The base is a classic, moist yellow cake infused with Meyer lemons (I lied when I told you the season was over; I found a bag of them at Whole Foods just last week!) In a somewhat unorthodox combination, the bright lemon cake gets paired with a rich and fudgy chocolate buttercream. See, I wasn’t joking when I said lemon and chocolate would make a perfect paring.

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Of course, you could certainly omit the lemon part if you just want something simple and classic, and so much better than any box or tub can provide.

I’ll share also that one of the best gifts I’ve received in recent memory are a set of 6-inch cake pans. Perfect for halving any 8 or 9-inch layer cake recipe, they allow me to bake up a fancy triple layer cake without worry of it going to waste. Because no matter how much you love cake, after 3 or 4 days it starts to get dry and you really wish it would just stop already. Turns out a 6-incher is just perfect for two. I love my little cakes so much I even had a custom-sized cake stand made just for me by Lindsay of Suite One Studio. It’s perfect, don’t you think?

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

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For Cake:
3 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
1 cup whole milk, divided
5 large eggs
4 teaspoons lemon or Meyer lemon zest (from 4 medium lemons)
3 tablespoons lemon or Meyer lemon juice (from 4 medium lemons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Frosting:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup cocoa powder
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream, more or less as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper; butter parchment.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix to combine. Add butter and 3/4 cup of whole milk. Mix on low speed until flour is evenly moistened, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, beat remaining 1/4 cup milk with eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Add to the batter mixture one-third at a time, mixing well after each addition. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (about 25 minutes for 6″ pans), rotating pans halfway through baking, until lightly golden on the edges and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to a wire cooling rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. Run a knife or thin spatula around the edge of the pan, then invert the cake onto wire rack. It should come out easily and cleanly. Remove parchment from the bottom. At this point the cakes can be wrapped tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use (in fact, I recommend you freeze the cakes overnight, as the frozen cakes will be easier to level and frost later.)

To prepare frosting, in a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cocoa powder and beat until incorporated. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. As frosting thickens, add a few tablespoons of cream as needed. Depending on the temperature and consistency of your frosting, continue alternating adding cream and powdered sugar, then continue beating until frosting is light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla.

To assemble, level each cake layer by cutting of the domed top with a long serrated knife. Place one layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread on about 1/2 cup of frosting onto cake using an offset spatula. Position second layer on top and press to adhere. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of frosting, and then position final cake layer, flat side up.

Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting. This “crumb coat” will keep the stray crumbs in place and make frosting the cake easier. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes to allow this crumb coat to set.

Remove cake from refrigerator and cover with remaining frosting, reserving some for piping decorative details if desired.

All images and text © / Love & Olive Oil

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  1. I’m going to make the 6” version snd would like to know the changes needed… esp. bake time? 

  2. I made this cake a day ahead of my husband’s birthday. He is a big chocolate lemon fan so when I found this recipe, I had to try it. It turn out beautiful, tasty, and everyone loved the flavor combination! I creamed the sugar and butter together then added one egg at a time and beat the mix until combined. Next I combined the dry ingredients and rotated between adding the milk and dry ingredients to the batter. Lastly, I added the zest plus the juice of four Meyer lemons plus the vanilla. To bring out the lemon essence, I added lemon curd between the cooked and cooled layers and frosted with the chocolate frosting. Absolutely delicious and worth the effort!!

  3. I doubled the cake and icing recipes, baked the cake in an angel food cake pan and frosted it that way. I served it to six (seven counting me) at our gathering to celebrate the eightieth birthday of one (the age of all of us this year). I can’t remember previously receiving such praise for my cooking: all raved and asked for the recipe. It will be a standard for me from now on!

  4. I made this today for Christmas. It turned out fantastic. The lemon flavor is not coming through but the pound cake is better than store stuff. My mother, a fierce critic, loved it. I used readymade frosting of milk chocolate and we’re giving away slices to our guests and in our sweet boxes. Its just delicious. Thank you for this recipe. A recipe worth saving.

  5. Hi! I’m hoping to make this cake with 6 inch cake pans. Would you halve the recipe and use two or three 6 inch pans? Thanks!

  6. I made this mom for my moms birthday, and it was great! Actually my first time making a cake like this, but I thought I did okay. I had only 8 inch tins, but we used the same recipe provided and it was fine. My only thing is that the recipe uses so much eggs and butter. We are probably going to end up giving the rest to our friends because it is so rich! Overall great cake, thanks for the recipe.

  7. Made the cake Thursday for a potluck Friday, came out excellent after adjustments for high altitude – I live at 9,000′! I added 3 tsp flour, -2 tsp sugar, +2 tsp baking powder, and +1 tsp salt, I estimated them based on a similar cake in Susan Purdy’s Pie in the Sky. My only problem was two of the layers were a bit overdone as two of my tins were dark and one was shiny, I’m going to have to pick up two more shiny pans.

    Love the icing! That’ll definitely be a go-to recipe, and I will make the cake again, though probably halved as it’s just my wife and I normally.

    • That’s great to hear this worked well for you at high altitude, that definitely makes baking more complicated! I’m sure this info will be very useful to others with a similar conundrum. :)

      And I definitely like to keep the baking pans consistent. I prefer light aluminum (I linked to my favorite 6-inch ones in the post which are perfect for 2), as I find they bake more evenly than darker finishes.

  8. Made this cake yesterday. Wanted more yellow than in the picture so I was searching some ways to naturally dye the cake more yellow and landed on a pinch of saffron threads sprinkled into the milk, then simmered for a brief moment and straining through a fine sieve. Also spritzed the cake rounds with more lemon juice after baking and before frosting. Chocolate and lemon was strange combo, but hey, I knew what I was getting into.

    Directions were fantastic, never made a cake this well before. Excellent. Will make again, most likely with vanilla frosting instead.

  9. What size pans were used in this picture? i am looking to make this for a group. Thank you.

    • The cake in the photo is a 6-inch cake, halve the recipe as written if you’d like to make this smaller size. For a group of people though the larger 9-inch cake might be optimal though!

  10. I just re read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and I was really keen to have the cake too! I’ve made your recipe as a three layer cake and it was incredible! I’ve just treated myself to 9” pans as my 7” cakes go too quickly!

  11. Let me tell you about this cake! So a couple months back my boyfriend told me his favorite cake was lemon cake with chocolate icing. I assumed he was mistaking the “lemon” for yellow cake since it is bright yellow. But he was adamant that his mom used to make the lemon cake mix with fudge tub frosting every year for his birthday. So me being a supporter of no cake mixes I took on the task of making it homemade. I was overjoyed to find an actual recipe so it wouldn’t be a total shot in the dark. And this cake was AMAZING. I think he loves me even more because of it. I was so nervous there would be nothing better than the traditional cake mix version but I can honestly say this cake is my new favorite. The frosting isn’t too sweet and compliments the slight lemon flavor of the yellow cake. If you’re looking for a typical cake with just that little extra make it! Thank you so much for the recipe. Really helped a girl out!

  12. Thank you for the recipe!
    How do you recommend storing of the cake until ready to serve? In the fridge or out?
    Thank you!

    • If you’re making it more than a couple hours ahead of time then yes, I’d recommend refrigerating it, especially in the summer. It’s best to eat at cool room temperature.

  13. Thank for posting this! I was scouring the internet for a great recipe specifically because Particular Sadness is one of my favorite books! Can’t wait to try it out.

  14. Hi!! I have been dying to find a lemon and chocolate cake recipe! One question is can I use regular lemons and also does halving the recipe make ONE six inch round or two?

  15. Oh my goodness, I specifically searched for this cake because I’ve been craving it ever since I read Aimee Bender’s book a few months ago! I’m finally making it tonight, about time. That was such a delightful novel, and I’m sure this will be a delightful cake! Thank you for the recipe.

  16. Why don’t you cream the butter and sugar first? What is your reasoning behind the order of mixing the ingredients? Just curious! Thanks!

    • I’ve had better luck with the dry method, it produces a smoother crumb. The wet method (butter + sugar, then eggs, etc) always comes out sort of curdled for me, with bigger bits of butter that turn into holes in the cake. Both methods can produce good results, that’s just my personal baking style. :)

  17. Wow, I can’t believe that so many of those commenting here claimed that they’d be baking this cake right away, but never bothered to write back with their results.  Whenever I read a recipe online, I always scroll down to see the results from the people who’ve already tried it out.  It’s kind of shocking that the only person who tried it nearly “gagged” from the “smell of butter and eggs”?  So odd — and the only possible explanation is your suggestion that her products must have expired.  (I’ve never in my life had a cake “smell” of eggs?  Eggs don’t really have much a smell, do they? And what little they do is balanced by the vanilla.)

    Anyway, I ACTUALLY BAKED THIS CAKE TONIGHT!  It’s absolutely delicious.  Unfortunately, I did it on the spur of the moment, and since I was down to two sticks of butter (plus a little extra for greasing the pans), I reduced the recipe by 1./3 and made only two layers.  (I have only two layer cake tins anyway).  I used one stick of butter in the recipe and replaced the remainder of the missing butter with olive oil.  It turns out I was low on flour, too, and so 1/4 of my flour was almond flour.  To give the cake a bit of a lift I used four eggs (not 3-1/2, as I would have done for the reduction).

    The cake turned out to be incredibly moist!  However, I have one suggested change:  MORE LEMON JUICE.  My niece and I tasted the batter, and we could hardly tell any lemons were pleasant,  and so I ended up DOUBLING the amount of lemon juice.

    I also added a tablespoon of lemon juice to the chocolate icing.  (Why not?)   

    I’ve never combined lemon and chocolate before, and wanted to take advantage of the abundance of Meyer lemons on our two bushes, and the Dutch chocolate (from Holland!) in my cabinet.  I’ll definitely be baking this cake again — thank you! 

  18. omg I was into the 3rd chapter when I thought, “I should totally check out Pinterest to see if there’s a good recipe for lemon chocolate cake” too funny! Can’t wait to make this with my Meyer lemons I’ve been patiently waiting to ripen since late summer. Thanks for the recipe!

  19. Has anyone tried this recipe as cupcakes? 

  20. That book is the exact reason I was looking for a lemon cake recipe!!! I agree that the cheery cake SHOULD not have been paired with that story. So I’ve been craving this cake for over two years…because I read it then. Your recipe looks like just what I wanted. Martha’s (Stewart) had me poking holes and adding a glaze…oops….won’t work for cupcakes.

  21. I love my 6″ pans too!  It was Cook’s Illustrated’s cookbook “Cooking for Two 2009″ that first told me about them.  Not only do they make great half-sized layer cakes, but I’ve used them individually to divide any 8″ or 9″ square pan recipe by two, or to divide any 9″ by 13” pan recipe by four.   They are my secret weapon for baking fresh desserts for my husband and I :)

  22. This looks so yummy!  I can’t wait to give it a try.  I think I will make it for my birthday.  It contain my two favorite flavors, lemon and chocolate.  Thank you for the recipe.

  23. Dear Lindsay
    I followed the recipe, exactly the same, but the smell of butter and eggs (5 eggs) are overwhelming and it makes me gag and my husband didn’t want to try it so i ended up throw the cake. is there anyways to bake my cake not that smelly..can i reduce the amount of eggss and butter? didnt try to be mean and i love reading your blog and i wanted to share my though

    look forward to hearing from you back

    • Sorry your cake didn’t quite turn out. Was there any chance your ingredients were expired? That’s the only thing I can think of, expired milk or bad eggs perhaps. When I made this cake it just smelled like, well, cake. It IS a yellow cake, however, which are heavier on the butter and egg yolks (that’s what makes it yellow). I wouldn’t adjust the quantities for fear it’d affect the structure/texture of the cake. If you’re not a fan of this kind of cake I might suggest trying something more like a white or angel food cake, which will use mostly egg whites. It’d be easy enough to add a hint of lemon to any basic white cake recipe and then use my chocolate frosting recipe with that.

  24. Whoa what a cake ~ diving in!

  25. I am a person who claims to not like cake, but this one looks delicious. Saving for later!

  26. So the recipe states that those amounts make 1 9″ cake- does that mean that for the three layers I have to triple the ingredients?
    Thanks- just trying to get it right!

    • No, the recipe as written will give you three layers. Just divide the batter accordingly among your three pans. :)

  27. I love this cake. You have a gift for frosting.

    I’m with you on food in books. I get so caught up with it and end up making dishes from them.

  28. This looks amazing, and I will be requesting it for my birthday this year. Thanks for the idea about the 6 inch cake – I hate when they go to waste, too!

  29. I know I’d be happy if I had this beautiful cake in front of me. I, too, scored on a bag of Meyer lemons at Whole Foods the other day, and I’m trying to figure out which wonderful recipe to use them for. I will add this to that list!

  30. You just put together two of my favorite dessert flavors. I cannot wait to try this cake.

  31. I’ve not heard about a book but a title is intriguing. Your lemon cake looks beautiful.

  32. lemon and chocolate sound like a divine combination. I love your frosting swirls – so professional. You can think about Pi as the roundness of criss-cross of the crust on a pie

  33. Stunning! Seriously, what a gorgeous cake! And I love the combo of Lemon & Chocolate! :)

  34. So pretty! I go crazy for lemony desserts!

  35. Delicious looking cake!

  36. I wish I had more time to read. I definitely get hungry reading, or even watching a really good movie. Everytime I watch It’s Complicated with Meryl and Alec I NEED a slice of chocolate cake, but I think this one will do just fine.

    Oh and 6″ pans.. YES. I hate having to throw cake out because I couldn’t finish it.

  37. Great idea! :) I love the idea of lemon and chocolate. Delish! :)

  38. daggum, girl! That cake is absolutely PERFECT!

  39. I would have never thought to combine lemon cake and chocolate frosting…I bet it’s delicious!

  40. If only Life of Pi were really about pies. That would’ve been awesome ;) Love the tip for 6″ cakes. I’ve actually been meaning to get some smaller pans.

  41. Gosh I know someone who just adores lemon cake with chocolate frosting! I have never had the flavor combo but they swear by it!!!

  42. How on earth did you get this cake to look so pretty?!? This sounds so good! I would love a piece right now!

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